General health care

Yearly physical exams

Get a complete physical exam by your regular doctor once a year. This exam is important so your doctor can check your overall health and find any developing problems.

Your regular transplant clinic checkups focus on transplant-related problems. They should not replace a complete physical exam.

Dental care

Brush and floss your teeth every day. If you have dentures, follow a routine cleaning practice.

See your dentist every six months for checkups and cleanings. Gum disease and mouth infections can turn into more serious infections.

Before you go to the dentist—even for a routine checkup—you need to take an antibiotic (medicine) to prevent any bacteria (germs) from turning into an infection.

Your dentist or transplant coordinator can prescribe an antibiotic. If it is the dentist, please check with the transplant office to see if it is compatible with your immunosuppressive medicines.

Eye exams

Schedule an exam with your ophthalmologist (eye doctor) within the first year after transplant. Have regular eye exams every year after that.

Immunosuppressive medicines may cause problems for your eyes:

  • cataracts (cloudy lenses)
  • certain infections that can cause serious changes in the retina

Tell your eye doctor the names of the medicines you are taking.

Cancer screening

The immunosuppressive medicines put you at a greater risk for developing cancer. For this reason, you should have regular preventive cancer screening:

Screening Guidelines
Skin cancer

Men and women: every year

Prostate and testicular cancer

Men: every year

Colon and rectal cancer

Men and women: every year with a colonoscopy every five years (starting at age 50)

Cervical cancer (Pap smear and pelvic exam)

  • Women: every year starting at the age of 18 or when becoming sexually active
  • Women who have had hysterectomies: every year

Breast cancer (mammogram)

Women: mammogram every year starting at age 40

If you have a personal or family history of cancer, you may need to have routine screening more often. Talk with your doctor about what's right for you.

Source: Journal of Heart & Lung Transplant

Immunizations (shots)

There are vaccines available to protect you from common diseases and illnesses. Call the transplant office before you receive any vaccination. The recommended schedule for the following vaccines:

Vaccine Age/How Often
  • Every year

Tetanus booster (Td)

  • Booster every 10 years.
  • Replace one routine Td booster with Tdap regardless of when the last Td was given.

Pneumonia (PPSV23)

  • Pneumovax®: every 5 years
  • Prevnar 13®: one time

Source: Allina Health

After your transplant you should not receive any "live vaccine" such as chickenpox and the oral polio vaccine. These "live vaccines" may lead to a serious infection in people who take immunosuppressive medicines.


If you become exposed to any disease that can be spread, such as chickenpox, measles or mumps, call your transplant coordinator.

After your transplant you should not receive any “live vaccine” such as chickenpox and the oral polio vaccine. These “live vaccines” may lead to a serious infection in people who take immunosuppressive medicines.

If you have a family member who receives a "live vaccine," it is possible for you to be exposed to an infection through close contact with that person for up to six weeks after the shot.

Call the transplant office for directions on how to protect yourself.


Travel in the United States is safe. You may travel to the following areas as long as you avoid side trips in areas that are not located near major cities:

  • Mexico (Do not drink tap water.)
  • Caribbean
  • Europe

Important: Do not eat raw fish anywhere. Peel all fruit before you eat it.

Call your local international travel clinic if you are planning on traveling outside of the U.S. Call as soon as you now your travel plans. Call your transplant coordinator to let him or her know about your travel plans.

Someone from the travel clinic will talk with you about shots you may need and how to avoid infection.

The infectious disease specialist will talk with you about shots you may need and how to avoid infection. Check with your insurance provider to see if your Travel Clinic visit is covered.

Skin care

Acne and dry skin are the two most common skin problems in people who have heart transplants. They are both side effects of prednisone. Both conditions should start to clear as your dose is reduced.


To treat acne:

  • You may wash the areas of acne with an antibacterial soap.
  • You may use any benzoyl peroxide solution. (Oxy-10® is one example.)
  • See a dermatologist if you have severe acne.

To prevent infection:

  • Do not pick or touch the acne or pimples.
  • Call your regular doctor if you have any areas that look like they may be infected.
  • The acne should clear as your prednisone dose is decreased.

Dry skin

Dry, thin, fragile skin can also be a problem. Use gentle soaps for bathing and lotions that do not contain alcohol.

Hair care

Some of the medicines you are taking may affect your hair. Some medicines may cause hair loss. Switch to a gentle soap to help slow hair loss.

Other medicines can cause hair to grow fast. This may cause unwanted hair on your face, chest, back or arms. To treat unwanted hair, you may try the following.

  • Try a 50 percent peroxide solution to bleach your hair. This will make it less noticeable. Avoid the area near your eyes.
  • Try a mild depilatory cream. Use caution since many of these ointments can cause injury to your skin.
  • Try laser hair removal. Check with your transplant coordinator first if you choose this option.

Sun precautions

There are increased cases of skin cancer in all transplant patients. For that reason, it is important for you to limit the amount of sun exposure you receive. If found and treated early, most skin cancers can be cured.

Take the following steps to stay ahead of skin cancer.

After your transplant, see a dermatologist (skin doctor) within six months

If you don't have a dermatologist, talk with your regular doctor or transplant coordinator. To find a board-certified specialist near you, go to our dermatology page.

You should see a dermatologist every six months. The sooner you have a full skin exam the better.

Be alert to any changes in your skin

Finding changes early makes a difference.

  • Look at your skin regularly.
  • Please note any change in existing or new skin growths.
  • Changes could include sores or darkening of pigmentation (skin coloring).
  • Call your regular doctor if you notice any changes or if you have any concerns.

Apply sunscreen often

  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 all year.
  • Apply it to your ears, lips and hands.
  • Apply about 30 minutes before going out during the day and re-apply every two hours. Make sure you re-apply if you are sweating from activities or swimming.

Protect yourself from the sun

  • Never sunbathe. Find shady areas.
  • Wear hats with brims.
  • Wear clothing with close-weave fabric. Wear lightweight long-sleeved shirts and long pants, if possible.
  • Never use tanning beds.
  • Avoid sun exposure during the sun's peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Avoid light-reflecting surfaces, including snow.

There are two major types of ultraviolet rays that radiate from the sun: UVA and UVB. The UVA rays, which will pass through glass - even car windows - are not affected by PABA-type sunblocks.

Use "broad spectrum" or "complete blocker" sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30. These protect against both UVA and UVB rays.


Having alcohol on rare occasions is OK, but it is best to not drink at all. Try to not have more than one glass at a time, not more than once a week. If you have a history of alcohol dependence, you cannot drink.

Alcohol may affect cyclosporine and Prograf absorption, which could cause side effects or rejection. Cyclosporine or Prograf doses cannot be increased to cover up binges.

It is important to talk with your transplant coordinator and doctor about your alcohol use.

Tobacco Use

Stay with your tobacco-free life. As you continue to recover from surgery, you may notice your body healing in many ways. Take into account how many healing changes you have from not using tobacco.

  • Using tobacco increases your risk of the following after surgery:
  • heart problems (complications)
  • lung problems such as pneumonia
  • infections such as an infection of your surgery site (incision)
  • blood clots
  • slower healing of your surgery site
  • higher levels of pain and more problems with pain control.

Tobacco use keeps oxygen from reaching your surgery site and it can increase your recovery time.

Avoiding a relapse

  • Think about what you are gaining from quitting tobacco, instead of focusing on what you’ve given up. For example, "It's easier to play with my kids or grandkids."
  • Have a plan for how you will deal with unexpected urges. (Take a walk, make a call.)
  • Think your way through difficult situations ahead of time whenever you can.
  • Think about past quitting attempts and what was helpful to you. Reuse them again if possible or try something new.
  • Explore ways to move your body with safe and realistic expectations. Increasing your physical activity can help you manage weight gain and work through emotions that otherwise would make you want to smoke.
  • Avoid foods high in calories and fat. Sugar can increase cravings to smoke. Limit large amounts of sugar.
  • Drink lots of water. Ice water may be helpful in getting rid of a craving.
  • Reward yourself when you reach milestones: 1 day, 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, etc.
  • Go to places where you cannot use tobacco. Stay away from the places you used to use tobacco.
  • Think about the money you saved!
  • Think of quitting as an act of love — for those you care about and for yourself!

Resources for quitting

  • Tobacco Intervention Program at Abbott Northwestern Hospital
    • 612-863-1648
  • Tobacco Intervention Program at Mercy Hospital
    • 763-236-8008
  • Tobacco Intervention Program at River Falls Area Hospital
    • 715-307-6075
  • *United Hospital Lung and Sleep Clinic Tobacco Cessation Program
    • 651-726-6200
  • *Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing (LiveWell Center) tobacco intervention coaching
    • 612-863-5178

*There may be a cost to you. Check with your insurance provider.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Care After Heart Transplant, cvs-ah-95405 (1/18)
First Published: 01/06/2013
Last Reviewed: 01/19/2018